UAE pulls plug on Pakistani channels

Dubai Media City shuts down two news outlets

BAGHDAD — The closure by Dubai’s authorities of two leading private Pakistani news channels under pressure from President Pervez Musharraf has left other foreign broadcasters based in Dubai Media City wondering if the plug may one day be pulled on them, too.

Geo and ARYOne were blacked out on cable in Pakistan on Nov. 3, when Musharraf imposed a state of emergency. They both said Islamabad had been pressuring them to yank their political talk shows.

The channels had still been available on satellite and the Internet until November 16, when they were fully closed.

Ibrahim al-Abed, director of the National Media Council, the regulator of media in the United Arab Emirates, said Dubai follows a policy of “moderation, neutrality and non-interference in others’ affairs.”

The UAE is “keen on maintaining total and objective neutrality toward the political events unfolding in Pakistan,” Abed was quoted as saying by the official WAM news agency.

“The closure of the two television channels is compatible with the UAE’s … foreign policy,” he added.

Amina Rustamani, head of Dubai’s media watchdog, was quoted by WAM as saying that Dubai Media City, where many broadcasters are based, cannot allow the media it hosts to put out material flouting UAE policies.

Dubai Media City is “keen on safeguarding cooperation with the two channels, and its administration is currently discussing with those in charge of the channels the content of their news programs,” she said.

Rustamanii, executive director of media at Dubai Media City, declined to elaborate on the criteria the two channels would have to adhere to be able to resume broadcasting.

She, however, was confident a settlement would soon be reached. By Nov. 19 the channels were still off air but that situation was expected to change at any moment.

Geo after the shutdown showed a continuous animated loop of its blue and orange logo bearing the motto “Live and Let Live.”

Resting on a calm sea, the logo is then shown being battered by a powerful storm before the words flash up, “Please inform them.”

Rustamani shrugged off concerns among the scores of other foreign news organizations who have set up shop in Dubai and helped turn the emirate into a regional media hub.

“There are (media) laws in any country,” she said.

Pakistan’s regulator allowed international news channels BBC and CNN and two local stations, Aaj and Dawn, back onto screens last Thursday.

The media, under emergency rule, is barred from publishing or broadcasting material that defames Musharraf, the government or the armed forces, with a jail term of up to three years in jail or a fine of 10 million rupees (166,700 dollars) for offenders.

Pakistani authorities have also effectively banned the import of satellite television equipment, further hampering media coverage of the crisis.

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